Renèe Roberts swims into college on partial athletic scholarship

For nearly 10 years, Renèe Roberts has dedicated her life to swimming, and all those miles swum are taking her places.

Roberts, a standout member of the Wrangell High School swim team, signed with Western Colorado University and will be one of 12 freshmen this fall joining the women's swimming and dive team.

When she was 9 years old, Renee started swimming for fun, but was learning and practicing swim strokes right away. In 2016, at 12, she joined the Wrangell Swim Club and began improving her times in various competitions. It was also the first year the club began competing in meets.

"We took our kids to that first meet and some of them qualified for a higher-level meet, so we took them to the next meet," said head coach and mom Jamie Roberts. "They qualified for the state championship meet and we took them to that. And then they qualified for Junior Olympics. We just kept going."

Competitive swimming "added another element of fun to the sport," Renèe said, and joining the high school team four years ago upped her abilities even more. "I still had a lot to learn going into it. I think I improved my skills all around over the four years."

She had a goal during high school to go to state each year. She went her first two years, but the competition was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19. Last year, the Wrangell team went to state but had to bow out of the finals because Renèe tested positive for COVID-19 an hour before competition.

Though her high school swimming career is over, Renèe continues to compete at the club level, with a meet in Juneau and the Junior Olympics coming up next month. Those will be her final club competitions, and she's using meets and training to improve her times before attending Western Colorado University in the fall. "I've already had a goal of getting certain times in certain events so, hopefully, I can do well at the meets once I get there."

Renèe has received an academic scholarship and a partial athletic scholarship to attend the university in Gunnison, Colorado. It will be a big change for the 18-year-old, who has been homeschooled her entire life.

"I think that was one of biggest worries in deciding on a college," Renèe said. "I've never gone to public school. I don't have anything to compare it to, so I decided I'm just going to go for it."

The social aspect of the swim club and high school swim team were just as beneficial to her as the athletic training, since there isn't a large social circle when it comes to being homeschooled.

"I got to meet new people who either I've known of or knew a little bit and got to know them better," Renèe said. "Since club started, we've had kind of a group of kids who have stuck with it, so I was able to continue swimming with them throughout high school. Swimming has definitely been my biggest social outlet, which I'm grateful for."

Her core group of friends - Nikolai Siekawitch, Jimmy Baggen and brother Jack Roberts - also push her to be a stronger competitor.

Before deciding on the school, Renèe and her mom visited to get a better sense of it. Renèe was able to meet the current swim team, sit in on a class and meet with head coach Vickie Fellows, with whom she said she had a good connection.

"Renèe fit in very well with the team. The ladies loved her personality and commitment to being a strong student-athlete on our team," Fellows said. Renèe's dedication to swimming and fast times in the 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter freestyle stood out to Fellows, as did her dedication to academics.

Grades at the college level are just as important in athletics as they are in high school, and Renèe describes herself as "a B-plus to A student," and has never missed a competition because of her grades.

"I expect my athletes to be successful in the classroom and have a strong work ethic in the pool," Fellows said. "They must have a genuine desire to be competitive in practice, in competition and in the classroom."

Jamie Roberts is proud of how far her daughter has come during her swimming career, but is also excited to see how far she'll go under Fellows' direction.

"It's exciting for me to know she's going on to collegiate swimming and know she's going to be coached by a coach with a professional background because she still has a lot of room to grow," Roberts said. "The only downside is that I won't be able to see her swim."

Renèe, who plans to major in environmental studies, is thankful for all the people who have been supporters with time, effort and funding for the swimming programs. Her mom tops that list.

"She's my biggest supporter. (Her involvement) didn't impact me negatively at all," Renèe said. "She's very involved in my brother's and my life, so (coaching) was just another added area where she could step in and help."


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